Embodied – Poetry & Art of Embodiment
Where thorns, where roses, Candice Louisa Daquin
To the One Riding the Rooster (Poem-Art), Shweta Rao Garg
Dear Goddess, (Poem-Art), Shweta Rao Garg
Art – from the internet
Women’s experiences are often viewed as embodied ones — written and marked through the body, through and in, corporeality. While French feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir has foregrounded the privilege that men have of claiming disembodied experiences, a luxury denied to women who are often ‘reduced’ to their bodies, other feminist philosophers such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray have argued for a reclaiming of the body as a site of celebratory resistance to the phallic vocabulary of patriarchy. It is undeniable that femininity or being ‘woman’ has across cultures and genealogies, been a question of embodied identity, whether this means the need to “assert herself in her body” as de Beauvoir declares or about ‘returning’ women to their bodies and to writing, from which they have been “violently” driven away, as Cixous reminds us or quarrying the rich possibilities of self-love that woman’s very anatomy possesses as according to Irigaray, locating in her an autonomy in embodiment that demystifies and contests the myth of disembodied transcendentalism of ‘man’. Further, the work of queer feminist philosopher Judith Butler is the most significant intervention in this matter perhaps, especially with regard to homosexuality (and, I would argue, race and caste) which continue to be viewed through the lens of a bodily identity that precludes participation and preorders a discriminatory hierarchy and politics of materiality. Butler reminds us that the materiality of the body, that is, body as matter, cannot be presumed but is rather configured through oppressive and exclusionary matrixes such as heterosexuality. If we think about the intersecting lines of caste and race and gender, then the significant question of what bodies matter, we find, is a result of how matter itself is realized or how the body is materialized. In this regard, writers and poets, who identify as women, have often re-configured and hence rematerisalised the body, as they reclaim it, speak from it or reconfigure it as the site of memory, affect and subversive power. In their quest for a different vocabulary for thinking about the self, the body stands foregrounded, validated and significantly rematerialized. This is often a response to a system that seeks to ‘reduce’ women to their bodies, creating in that act of reduction an imaginary that legitimizes an abyss of violence, or a response to the ways in which hetero-casteist-patriarchy seeks to define women’s bodies for them, thus confining and limiting their ordinary experience of it, as it both punishes and disciplines this body into being. We may recall Maya Angelou’s powerful reclaiming of embodied identity in lines such as, Does my sexiness upset you?/Does it come as a surprise/That I dance like I've got diamonds/At the meeting of my thighs? What about the ‘body’ of the self-portraits of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, iconoclastic, honest, seeped in history, pain and yet profoundly celebratory of her femininity? Then there is the poetic recounting of viscerally embodied experiences of living as a desiring woman in the writings of poet Kamala Das/Suraiyya. Is it possible then, through the workings of a world that has sought to increasingly decimate and desecrate women’s bodies in discourse and in reality as we have witnessed close to home both in recent times as well as throughout history, that reading back the body can make room for a safer and more inclusive world for bodies that do not seem to matter enough? In that we may also ask where the body lies and how do ‘women’ read/experience their bodies in ways that question age-old ways of seeing ‘their’ bodies. The liminal locations of resistance that such juxtapositions between received notions around the body and lived, historicized and reclaimed experiences of bodies by those identifying themselves as women, can produce, thus shifting the contours of feminine embodiment, are significant for thinking through women’s identity and violence women endure. We may pause to reflect upon the many universes contained within, and explored in the tapestry of poetic or artistic citations of corporeality by women, as they make room for the idea that being itself is embodied and hence both limited and limitless. The poems in this segment are the work of five powerful women poets who write about, across and from vastly different and yet overlapping embodied lives and experiences. They demand that we turn towards them, towards their complex, overwhelming, invisiblized and intense relationality with embodiment, often sketched upon a palimpsestic, layered corporeality, engaging as it does with myth, history, literature, art, pleasure and desire. The poems can be thought of as embodied testimonies as they present us with bleeding palms, invoking crucifixion, located within the quotidian suffering of a woman marked through her body or fingers drenched in the paint of self-discovery finding one’s sense of self through and beyond frames, corners and the crisscrossing of lines of embodied existence. They delineate the passionate and compelling desire of a woman for another as she reads her beloved’s body/self through a feminine gaze, configuring that body as not an object of desire but a feminine/queer subject of desire and love. They mesh laughter with ferocity as the poet personas become or converse with mythical women, lovers, muses and goddesses blurring the boundaries between real, historical and imagined by reclaiming the embodiment of femininity as both ordinary and extra-ordinary. They speak/write back to the fragmentation of women’s bodies within hetero-patriarchal regimes through the enactment of subversive self-mutilation where the body re-emerges as its own arson and weapon, even as they softly draw us into mapping the distances between men’s routinized wielding of power, and women’s circumnavigation of those oppressive realities while they speak, searchingly with each other. The poems that follow- scathing, lilting, visceral, empowering and unimaginably beautiful, inscribe the plenitude of embodied identity for women and leave us, I believe, with a profound sense of the immense power and possibilities of representing women’s embodied desires and voices thus, resignifying our bodies as heterotopic sites of resistance. I remain grateful to friend, poet and editor Smeetha Bhoumik for offering me the responsibility of inviting and curating this remarkable collection of poetry for The Yugen Quest Review to mark International Women’s Day 2023, and to each of these incredible poets for their faith in me and in the theme. In the hope of a more equal and diverse world for all women, Dr. Sonali Pattnaik
Works Cited Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York: Routledge, 1993. De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany- Chevallier. London: Vintage Books, 2011. Cixous, Hélène “The Laugh of the Medusa”, trans Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs, Vol 1: 4, Summer 1976. Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke, Cornell UP, New York: 1985. Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise” in And Still I Rise, Random House, New York: 1978
I am going to shotput One breast into the sky And let the city Burn to embers.* I am going to say, “Here, take that. If I am all parts, Never a sum total for you Then, here, take it. Take one part And let me see If you come back Asking for more.” *In the Tamil text Cilappatikāram, Kannagi tears off her breast and hurls it upon the city of Madurai that had wronged her, setting the place on fire.
Awarded for her poetry, essays and reportage, Ankita Anand has been published in varied languages and geographies. She is also an editor with Unbias the News, and a researcher with The Gender Beat, mapping the global landscape of feminist journalism. She enjoys working with different formats and people - performing her poetry, co-producing a podcast, facilitating writing, poetry, journalism and theatre workshops, and collaborating across borders with reporters. In her past life, she used to be an activist, a copy editor, a lit-fest coordinator, a street theatre group’s co-founder, and a Blu-ray DVD data feeder.
Candice Louisa Daquin
Growing up, I saw the glossy magazine ideal of womanhood. I felt like a lost soul, with a lemon on her tongue, staring at an unknown universe. Hidden behind thick glasses, bad haircut, missing front teeth, one patch over one eye, as it wandered in its lazy orbit, I knew I never wanted to be like that. Later on, when those things were thought to be forgotten, I modelled and went for a time, trying again to fit some label of what a woman was. Engaged to a man, I broke it off and went to a feminist book store and purchased Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt. To me the embodiment of myself as a woman was my hopeful love of another woman. Not just any woman, not all women, but one woman’s ability to love another, truly and unendingly. At first in the queer world, all I met were women trying not to be women or so much like men as to be unrecognizable. I respected their journey but it wasn’t mine. I wanted to meet one woman who loved me as much as I loved her, who was in all things, a woman. People thought lesbianism was dirty, twisted, sick, wrong, cheap and desperate. They saw lesbians as less than and rejects and often made jokes about how; ‘only ugly women become lesbians because no man would want them.’ Other women assumed a lesbian would pounce on them, lasciviously. I was told never to have children in case it was genetic, or I sexually abused them. For a long while I carried those voices with me like stones in my pockets, weighing me down. Their glares of approbation, pity and outright disgust. Eventually I was old enough and tired enough to shrug it off and be myself without fear. It took a long time, years lost never to be reclaimed. It is easy I think, to judge others and tell them how to live, without knowing what it is to live in another’s body. I see myself now, middle-aged with many regrets and missed years, family who doesn’t talk to me because I’m a lesbian, childless, having lived illegally in a country that didn’t recognize same-sex relationships. But I wouldn’t change who I am, because it has always felt right inside to be who I am. I don’t need others to understand or approve, I just need them to let me be. Where thorns, where roses Let me be —that which I am marble in my mouth, embodiment, glass against porcelain — bite down and you’ll break; yet you let it roll, hoping the harmony of color—captured within glass, a world within a world, somewhere you can go when people condemn, climb high into the Faraway Tree, twigs, roses nobodies looking—it doesn’t matter; birds let you ascend, permission to fly soaring then, pearls dotting seascape, once you collected them, strung on hemp wound them around her thin wrist, a token through time, does she possess it still? Now older, heavy breasts from witnessing years infernal drag— no more lithe arabesque-springs, able to somersault backward into waves, you hear as if it were— yesterday, rounding conch shells deprived of saline, containing rainbows the click of your nervous heels on city pavement, walking to assignations quill— she’s bending over you to reach for the phone; powdery perspiration, miniature creases behind ear lobes, silver hung, arches one eyebrow, chewing a pencil, small hands, pursed in concentration, dogeared book what did she read? Ah she read. Madame Bovary*. Glasses. Slightly askew— nervous in gesticulation, things no man would care about, you breathe in gladly —bitten nails, painted purple, tight-shoes, swallow-like shoulders—reddened with admiration, surging from sea; words drowned before spoken— let it out, let it out—be mine. She’s turning away; talking to a tall man, swish, how can you tell her she’s everything? Remember the song playing; Unfinished Symphony,* does anyone sing of your love? Write of your world? Lend you language? Remember the clammy temperature — lemon presse poured evenly, sugar added last, sweet on her lips, laughing, blush, lights lowered— candles placed on tables darkened, a thousand scars of silver fingers entwined through woodland, shy, discovery, magic. Rude catcalls from men getting out of work, luminous shape of her ankles sweat behind her knees when she rubs unconsciously, fountains, ink, moon peal birds in unison overhead, mirror image in water, long necks keening, red foxes crying like murder at midnight — trains slowing in suburbs, her arms reach for you; enclosing, beholding, lips softer than any fruit, words useless, useless. Morning wakens shadow into shape, arabesque, absolution, the prayer of union — her sleep is a well of loneliness*, filigree light plays motion the fall of moments — tightening like murder… She no longer recognizes you when you come in; windows steamed up from unseasonable weather, shaking umbrella, a run in your hose, the honey smell of her perfume, a knife in the slim curve of your heart, where thorns once wound, wild, unstructured. Remember the furl of time lain against her thighs stained violet in dusk, apricots and frankincense? Fragile magnolias captured behind glass, bending toward sun — she shakes her hair — catching years, a slick record played on tired needle, sounds like cream, poured over hope, deafening acuity. Her throat is reddened in your embrace, ships sail without warning — until so far out to sea they lose direction and succumb to her music, her fatalism, boxes of pressed flowers and torn glimpses, she turns away, you see her clearly then, hours lying on her in kaleidoscope as carpets in Morocco, to be haggled over, mint clinging the air, a prayer for us wound around emptied fingers, days, earth, shifting, dug by men with downcast eyes — we stand, almost circular, almost straight, stillness, no birdsong, only rain throw violets, they hit the casket, she is lowered, softly, like a child’s footsteps on lacquer, spilt drink on raw silk, the indelible stain, the price of salt* I rub and rub and rub it doesn’t come out, it stays, permanent and unforgiven like a locket of wild flowers around my neck gifted me once. (*The Well of Loneliness, considered ‘the lesbian bible’ by some, written in the 1800’s by Radcliffe Hall. / The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith. / Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert. / Unfinished Symphony, The Righteous Brothers).
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist living in America. She grew up in Europe to an Egyptian mother and French father, as an only child who wanted to be a dragon. Daquin is also Senior Editor for Indie Blu(e) Publishing and Consultant Editor for BlackBird Press and Raw Earth Ink. She is Poetry Editor with The Pine Cone Review and Parcham Literary Magazine and Writer-in-Residence with Borderless Journal. Daquin co-edited two award winning anthologies; SMITTEN (lesbian poetry) and The Kali Project (Indian women’s poetry) alongside many others. Daquin’s own poetry collection Tainted by the Same Counterfeit describes her survival through a serious illness. She remains a fervent campaigner for equality and compassion and loves helping others and drinking chai.
Fingers dipping in bottles of paints The three muses looking away Sitting modestly inside the frayed painting The fabric holding itself together bravely Holding on to the rusted nails in the four corners Chaar diwari Painted thirty years ago with a tree now missing. A cat decided to tear it down with its claws Ripping through the trunk and the fallen leaves Ek azaad rooh ki talaash mein ek patte ne apne maa se naata tod liya The stub of a finger can make a straight line Stub…stub…stubborn…born… How long will it take to heal me? The fissures are filling up with paints Massage your feet with coconut oil Such dry feet Do not walk bare foot on the grass The bacterium will enter through your cracked feet I walk on newspapers absorbing the spilled paints Acrylic and oil It hurts It heals “Har shaakh pe ullu baitha hai” A favourite line from a sher on the loop The men gather to revel in their shortcomings Pulling others down/sizing up They clamour to vie for the patriarch’s attention “anjaam-e-gulistaan kya hoga” The finger pauses The lines are fresh The paper is jammed Jammy jammies colours Squinting I try to squeeze out a kaleidoscopic brain Look at all these lines on your palms Criss cross criss cross As if someone slashed your palms with a knife Here, look at min So smooth Hardly any lines I pour out the paints Drown my palms in the viscosities No lines No more butchered palms Ek bandh kamre ne Mujhe mere wajood se mila diya
Dr. Semeen Ali has a Ph.D. in English Literature from University of Delhi. She has four books of poetry to her credit. Her works have featured in several national and international journals as well as anthologies. She has co-edited four anthologies of poetry/prose that have been published nationally and internationally. Apart from reviewing books for prestigious journals, she is the Poetry editor for the literary journal Muse India and Editor for Opinion pieces (Cultural) as well as Co-Editor (Book Reviews and Translations) for literary journal Parcham. She is on the Council Board for the Literary Arts Council, Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WICCI) for the year 2022-23. Website: https://www.semeenali.com/
Shweta Rao Garg
To the One Riding the Rooster
Sometimes I’m a goddess, sometimes, a slut
Shweta Rao Garg
Shweta Rao Garg is an artist, poet, and academic from India living in Baltimore, US. Her poetry collection, Of Goddesses and Women, was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2021. She is one of the co-editors of Quicksand Borders: South Asia in Verse (forthcoming Macmillan, New Delhi) and one of the four contributors in Shakespearewalis: Verses on the Bard (forthcoming Flowersong Press, McAllen, Texas). Her poems have been published in Indian Literature, Coldnoon, Everyday Poems, Postcolonial Text, Transnational Literature, Muse India, Visual Verse, Yugen Quest Review, among others. Like her art, her poems are about her lived experiences as a woman; mythology, popular culture, love, and motherhood are recurring themes. She seeks to create a conversation between her visual art and writing through visual poetry. Her artwork can be found at http://shwetaraogarg.com
There have been poems asking to come, Settle in my palms, there Where fingers can curl over and clasp, Mould, incubate into something worthwhile I can slip inside my pocket, there Secure for when I need to clutch At comfort no one else will offer, Or proffer to another in thirst for verse. But mine are palms where poems stifle In the wounding drudgery of hearth and heart. Holding out maimed palms I say to these naive and reckless poems, ‘Come, if you wish to know what it means to be lost. If you wish to join my pocket of carcasses.’
I showed my verse to a poet today. A poem I pieced from fragments of heart. Outlasting the losing is also an art – Scouring through the aftermath for a way Out of debris replete with turned other cheeks. And once these words are on paper, we part By folding them into origami art – A bird or perhaps a frog we can keep In a jar with the lid tightly screwed on A menagerie of all kinds of starts: The restart, the fresh start, starting too is an art – A blank page is a continent at dawn. New realms where kind words assuage a battered heart. Seeing past disaster is also an art.
T. Keditsu is the pen name of Theyiesinuo Keditsu, an indigenous feminist, poet, academic, folklorist, writer and educator. She has published two books of poetry, Sopfünuo and Wake as well as Ukepenuopfü, an illustrated children’s storybook. She has contributed to a number of anthologies, journals and books in her creative & academic capacities. She advocates for the revival of Indigenous Naga textiles and women's narratives through her popular Instagram avatar @mekhalamama. She campaigns for sustainable fashion practices and is known for promoting locally produced indigenous textiles & crafts as well as local businesses with a focus on those run by women entrepreneurs. She has a PhD in Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her research focuses on contemporary Naga culture, indigenous knowledge, indigenous feminisms, folklore, oral & written literatures of Nagaland. She is currently an assistant professor in Kohima College, Kohima, Nagaland.
About the Editor
Dr. Sonali Pattnaik is an award winning feminist poet, academic, educator and visual artist. She is the author of when the flowers begin to speak (Writers Workshop, 2021), a solo collection of poetry that marks a woman’s journey through abuse, survival and hope, for which she was recently awarded the WE ‘Intense Feminine Power’ Gifted Poet Award 2023, and the inaugural WE Illumination Award. She is the recipient of the Orange Flower Award for Poetry in English, 2022. Her poetry and art have appeared in several international and national anthologies including, The Kali Project (edited by Candice Lousia Daquin and Megha Sood 2021), Of Dry Tongues and Brave Hearts (edited by Semeen Ali and Reema Ahmad, 2022) and Through the Looking Glass (Indie Blu(e) 2021) and in The Indian Express, The Bombay Review, Setu Magazine, Café Dissensus, The Pine Cone Review, The Yugen Quest Review, Fem Asia, Sampad etc. Her book based on research on body politics in Bollywood cinema is forthcoming from Orient Black Swan. A well published academic in the area of visuality, literature and theories of the body, she is both an alumnus and erstwhile professor at Delhi University and is currently Visiting Professor and External Expert, Board of Studies in in English at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. She has participated extensively in advocacy work for gender equality and safer societies including being the Convener of the College Anti-sexual harassment cell and a leading member of the gender cell of her college at Delhi University. Her vision remains a synthesis of her critical and academic work with her poetic and creative, artistic voice for a more equal world for women and children.